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Sanitation under stress: how can urban services respond to acute migration?

Working paper

Written by Beatrice Mosello, Mariana Matoso, Clare Cummings

Working paper

This working paper aims to identify key research questions around the successes and failures of urban governance structures in delivering essential services to populations following large migration movements.

It does so through a review of the existing literature on the subject. It then unpacks how conflict-induced migration has affected Jordan’s urban infrastructure and systems for the provision of basic services.

In conclusion, we call for a research agenda that can help utilities, governments, non-governmental organisations and other service providers to better understand and overcome the challenges of sanitation provision in urban contexts ‘under stress’, without reinforcing existing inequalities or creating new ones, and to progress towards realising the Sustainable Development Goals’ aspirations for ‘universal access to adequate and equitable sanitation’ by 2030.

Key messages

  • Sanitation is critical for human health in densely populated areas, and yet is often absent from urban planning and investment, especially in developing countries.
  • Rapid urbanisation is putting pressure on inadequate, existing sanitation systems. Improving sanitation in cities is even more urgent in the face of ‘acute’ migration, the sudden arrival of refugees and internally displaced people to a city.
  • Sanitation is usually perceived as a static, long-term infrastructure investment. There is little evidence about how a sanitation system can respond to emergencies, such as acute migration.
  • In Jordan, the sudden and continuous flow of refugees to cities has exerted substantial pressure on urban sanitation services, reducing access to, and the quality of, sanitation. Many other developing countries are experiencing acute migration to cities and their services are struggling to meet demand.
  • Local, national and international organisations must work together with urgency to improve urban sanitation services so that they can respond to sudden and sustained increases in the urban population.
Beatrice Mosello, Mariana Matoso, Clare Cummings and Julian Doczi